home grown stories

A CARDBOARD CHRISTMAS


treeEvery year at this time I am reminded of the many blessings I have, and the times where I thought I had none.

It was before the second husband, the onslaught of babies, and the beginning of a new awareness that my life was no longer my own.

I was the single mother of a three year old son, and had moved to a new town. It was far away from where I was born, and farther still from any family, friends or outside influences.

I was 23 years old and mad at the world. God was a distant memory from junior high school years and certainly wasn’t in my plans.

Having arrived with only our clothes and my young son’s toys, I found a house close to work, so that gas and parking wouldn’t eat up what was left of already a meager salary. I had recently started a new job as a secretary in a small firm, qualifying for help with day care. Not welfare, but an adjustable rate charged against how much my salary totaled. It was enough to buy food and pay rent, but not much else.

Time went by and we both made friends, although I didn’t invite anyone over, since I had very little to entertain with. I didn’t have a kitchen table, and the only bed was his, I slept on a mattress in the other bedroom. Our clothes were stacked neatly in cardboard boxes, our socks and underwear in plastic bins.

My kitchen table was a purple suitcase. Christmas was coming and I didn’t have much in the way of funds, let alone a Christmas tree. I was invited to a cookie exchange, something even more foreign to me than learning to balance my check book. I respectfully declined.

My boss was a gruff old cuss, but as is usually with crusty types, he was a softie inside. He was a retired Navy captain, and would regale us with stories of his travels from all over the globe. He noticed a lot but never said much. Fridays were Bagel Day, a day when we would take turns bringing in bags of bagels & cream cheese for fellow workers to share, a time to stop and reacquaint ourselves and not just talk business. Whenever it came to be my turn he would whisper to me “I’ve got it this week.” He noticed that I would always take an extra bagel and stuff it in my purse. He never drew attention to it except one time, to say conspiratorially “For the boy?” and I would nod, Yes. Thanks. It would be his treat after dinner, toasted and piled high with grape jelly.

Winter was in full blast in Pennsylvania, rumbling through the little town I had settled in like a locomotive on speed. Winters were damp and cold, and the wind chilled the bones so deep it is a memory that stays with me still. Snow was falling lightly the Christmas Eve of my memory, and I had wrapped the last of the three presents bought for my son with the money I had squirreled away. There was nothing else, no special dinner nor plans for church. I was still mad at God for putting me in this mess.

Putting my young one to bed, we talked excitedly about Santa and his expected arrival, for I didn’t want to dampen his mood or lessen his child joy of the season. I had cut a small tree down from the neighboring park, and it sat in the corner of the living room, minus lights or Christmas balls, just some silver tinsel I had gotten for 10 cents a package. Stuffed in a cardboard box to hold it up, it stood there, the bottom covered with a white sheet and looking as forlorn as I had felt.

I sat on the deep sill of the kitchen window, watching the flakes fall against the backdrop of the street lights. It was early evening and the t.v. was off, a small black and white portable that also sat on a cardboard box. It was quiet and snow muffled any sound, except for the crunch of tires on the street below.

I thought about the choices I had made which had put me in this position. Although I was tired, I was calm because I knew that I had done the best I could for my child and that was what really important to me. I knew that my time would come, but it would be a long time coming. It was then that I started to think about God again, and what I needed to do to make things right with him, to raise my son with morals and stability.

Lost in my thoughts, my eyes didn’t immediately focus on the truck that had stopped inimages[1] (11) front of my house. It wasn’t until I noticed the figure below waving their arms excitedly, that I realized I was looking at the face of my boss and some co workers. The crusty old man was beaming from ear to ear, and the doorbell rang loudly. My son ran from the bedroom asking, “Is Santa here?”

Running to the front and pulling the door open, I saw them standing there, holding chairs and end tables, a stainless steel kitchenette set and a mattress. With a headboard and frame, they smiled silently as they walked passed me and laid them down in the appropriate rooms.

One by one, they quietly placed them down, looking around the sparse rooms that were clean but empty. Box upon box of dishes, silverware and linens piled up in corners of the kitchen, until finally they were finished. They had cleaned out their attics, their cupboards and their wallets, also surprising me with a cooked turkey with all the trimmings.

They stood in my little living room, eleven in all, co- workers with spouses, standing there waiting nand ever uttering a sound.

The crusty old man gave the cue, and they began to sing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.”

“Merry Christmas!” They shouted and only then did I let the tears flow.

Full of gratitude and love for my fellow workers, I never forgot the feeling they gave me. I relive it every year at this time, and I give freely to others. I don’t think they knew the depth of their kindness and how much it touched me.

Two years after that, I remarried and spent a lot of years raising a family. I have been rich and I have been poor, but I have never forgotten the joy that comes with giving as well as receiving. I have thanked God for being and experiencing both.

Thank you all, where ever you are; your gift was more than you’ll ever know.

Merry Christmas to those who have and those who have not.

No matter what you have, share it with others.

It is truly what Christmas is all about.

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